Katie Conlon (Palestine)

Katie is a student in the Honors Tutorial College at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, pursuing a BA in History and a certificate in Law, Justice & Culture. She first became interested in issues of transitional justice in 2013 after a week-long study abroad to Northern Ireland. She spent the summer of 2014 conducting research in Cambodia about the experience of the Cham Muslim minority in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. She has studied Arabic for two years and focuses her studies on issues of gender and law in the Middle East. After the fellowship, she wrote: "The fellowship has definitely reinforced and changed my ability to adapt to new environments and given me a better idea about the kind of work environment I want to work in when I graduate." Contact: kconlon@advocacynet.org

Smiling Faces

26 Aug

One of the funniest and most memorable moments of my summer in Palestine happened a few weeks ago. I stood in front of a room full of kids and introduced myself with my American accent and mix of standard and colloquial Arabic.

Marhaba, isme Katie. Ana min Amrika. Hatha seif, bshtarghrul ma’a beit sadaqa philisteeny. Tasharufna bikom.

Translation: Hello, my name is Katie; I’m from America. This summer, I am working with the Palestinian House of Friendship. It’s nice to meet all of you.

The smallest girl in the room was so surprised to hear me speak Arabic and evidently found my accent hilarious. She couldn’t stop laughing. I bent down and asked her “shoe ismik?” (what’s your name?) to which she replied “Katie!” and laughed even harder.

katie 1

This is the little girl who thought my name and attempts at Arabic were so funny holding one of her drawings that she did at the camp.

My feebly attempts at Arabic aside, I had a wonderful few days visiting the kids at PHF’s most recent Smiling Faces Summer Camp. This is PHF’s oldest program, and since 1995, it has reached over 6,000 children in the Nablus area.

The camps are designed to provide kids with a space for recreation and to encourage creative expression through crafts, music, and dance. The kids also learn traditional Palestinian dance (dabkeh) and songs. This particular camp took place n the village of Asira al-Shamaliya, just outside of Nablus. Throughout the two weeks, over 100 kids attended the camp, ranging from ages 6-18.

These are some of the kids from the last Smilng Faces Summer Camp in Asira with PHF Director Mohammed and me.

These are some of the kids from the last Smilng Faces Summer Camp in Asira with PHF Director Mohammed and me.

This camp, as well as PHF’s other camps, also caters specifically to many children and youth with disabilities. These kids are given transportation to and from the camp each day and provide with specialized support as needed. All of the children are provided with lunch everyday.

The community often plans other activities to take place alongside the camp. One day that I visited, there was a man from the Palestinian Union for the Deaf leading a workshop for women with impaired hearing and vision.

The camp culminates in a closing ceremony, open to family and friends. At this ceremony, the kids get to show off the crafts they made throughout the camp and some of the dances they learned. I had so much fun meeting these kids, seeing them progress over the two weeks, and seeing the final products at the closing ceremony.

 One of the performances at the closing ceremony for the camp; these kids looked like they had a lot of fun!

One of the performances at the closing ceremony for the camp; these kids looked like they had a lot of fun!

PHF’s overall mission is simple: to empower youth. The Smiling Faces Summer Camps empower youth through creative expression, and provide them a space to counter the war-like environment in which they grow up. It’s a small affirmation of their right to childhood and an investment in them as future leaders of the community. I remember my time at summer camp when I was a child very fondly, and I can only imagine that these kids have similar memories of this program.


Posted By Katie Conlon (Palestine)

Posted Aug 26th, 2015

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